PSIA chairman: Get involved!

New standards body chairman says integrators need to be part of the larger effort
Thursday, August 26, 2010

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—As the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance continues to make progress toward its goal of a holistic body of technological standards in the security industry, new board chairman Dave Fowler, also senior VP of product development and marketing as PSIM software-maker VidSys, said integrators need to help drive the industry-wide effort.

“They’re the pull,” he said. “We’re the push side. We’re pushing the technology and products into the marketplace. They’re the pull side, saying, “I’ve got to have products that adhere to these standards.”

Thus, one of Fowler’s goals as chairman is to get more participation from integrators on the PSIA’s working groups, and “getting more information into their hands about how they can get involved.”

If it seems obvious that standards making more products work together more easily would make integrators’ jobs easier and systems less expensive to deploy, why then aren’t end users more involved already?

“Part of it is the historical issue in the industry,” Fowler theorized. “We’ve grown up fairly fractured, with no standards, so the standard mode of operation is that there’s no interoperability, so they think, “I’ll solve that problem my own way,” whether it’s by custom development or buying everything from one vendor ... Because the industry has never seen the value of standards, there hasn’t been as much excitement about moving toward them. But ask the IT industry about the excitement caused by standardizing around Ethernet or TCP. They’ll immediately say the industry grew a lot faster, but that message hasn’t resonated in security yet.”

Only a few companies have PSIA-compliant products on the market, though. When will PSIA specifications actually begin to have an impact? “It’s evolving over time,” Fowler said. “You get momentum around a specific area and then that momentum spreads. You might see it in video, and then quickly, if there’s a common way of handling video, then you start asking how you can link that into access control.”

No, but seriously, when? “In the next year there will be a lot of adoption at the vendor level,” Fowler predicted. However, he noted that the compliance tools that PSIA have released and are continuing to release are vital, as manufacturers are concerned that each vendor will interpret the specification differently, and “implementation is only as good as the interoperability that you can get from that implementation.”

This is also why PSIA is promoting its “connectathons” or “plugfests,” the next of which is at 4 p.m. on Oct. 13, at the ASIS show, in room A122.

Will standards create so much plugging and playing that an integrator’s value proposition will be significantly diminished?

No, said Fowler. “Systems integrators think that their value add is in the integration of these products together into one system. It’s not. The value proposition is what you do with the information, not the ability to get the devices to plug together.” Integrators in security should look again to the IT industry for a way forward. “That’s where they’ve moved already,” he said of IT integrators. “There were all these physical systems that you needed to collect information from—now, with all these network devices, they’ve collected all the information. That’s easy. And now they’ve moved into policies and compliance and provisioning and guidelines, and that’s where they’re making their money.”

But are today’s physical security integrators ready to make their money helping end users comply with regulations and create policies for the use of their systems? “People will continue to do contracting and installing,” Fowler allowed, “but they’ll become only a piece of the solution, and not the whole solution over time. We’re seeing that already. They’ve upgraded their organizations to get people more oriented around helping people get more out of their systems, rather than just installing the devices.”

Finally, what about the relationship with ONVIF? “PSIA is focused on areas that ONVIF is not focused on,” Fowler said. “And as we make progress on specs, you have to ask, ‘If there’s already one standard out there, why wouldn’t I get on board with that and concentrate on areas where there isn’t one?’ Over time it would be great to find us working together and to not overlap.”

So, if it would be great, has PSIA had conversations with ONVIF along those lines, and has Fowler reached out to ONVIF in his first 30 days at chairman of PSIA? “I can’t comment on what happened prior to stepping into this role,” he said, “but I have not had conversations with ONVIF. But I can’t see any reason why those conversations shouldn’t take place, and we’ll see how that evolves. There are lots of common vendors between the organizations, and it would only make sense to want to pool their efforts.”